While in the middle of interviewing my grandfather, Edward Chico Fernandez III, he revealed an important time in his life where he was left in a position that is peculiar to me, because in our society, black males rarely get to be victims of anything, let alone a black mother…
Grandfather: I got married at 17
Me: 17?? Who so early..I mean damn is that what y’all did back in the day?
Grandfather: I had responsibilities, I had 2 kids
Me: 2 kids???? At 17?? Why that young?
Grandfather: Well I had your father at 17 and 2 years before that I had your uncle Jeff. That’s what we did back in my day, got married and settled down
Me: Now what was your wife’s full name?
Grandfather: that’s your grandmother…Sandra Elizabeth..and you know what her maiden name was? whooooie..W-H-O-I-E
Me: Woooow (laugh) how long were you guys married
Grandfather: 7 years, right after high school
Me: now I know you went to Vietnam right after high school, how did that affect you being a father at the time?
Grandfather: Well right after high school I did 2 years of active duty, it was a mandatory draft, so with 2 kids and a wife, I had to leave and not see em’ for about 14 months. I spent 2 years active duty; special forces- green Berets, and 31 years in the reserves after.
Me: how did u talk to them? Letters ?
Grandfather: yeah, letters
Me: there were no cell phones back then or what?
Grandfather: No (laugh) we had to write letters, and it took about 2 to 3 weeks, maybe longer for them to travel
Me: so after your tour of duty, when you came back to D.C., how was your family life?
Grandfather: well I was married to your grandmother for about 3 years after I came back, and after living together for that time, I came home one day to the house we shared, and her and the kids were gone
Me: why did she leave? did she come back?
Grandfather: She wasn’t happy, but I tracked her down and convinced her to move back in and keep the house while I ended up living in a run-down apartment 4 blocks away.
Me: how long did things stay that way?
Grandfather: for about 8 years until she moved the kids to Virginia
Me: did you stay in their lives or see em’ on weekends or what?
Grandfather: yeah..yeahh..you know weekends or whenever we arranged for them to visit
Me: were you on child support?
Grandfather: yeah I paid every week
Me: every week?! And you still paid her bills?
Grandfather: yeah. and back then it was weekly, not every month..I paid every week
Me: damn..I guess Frankie Lymon wasn’t the only fool that fell in love (laugh..)now tell me about your dad or grandfather? Who was Cuban?
Grandfather: my grandfather was Cuban and actually lived with us in the 50s, he was short, fair skinned and stocky. I remember him having a full head of silver hair, not gray, but silver…he spoke Spanish but he wouldn’t allow us too, I’m guessing his father told him that you come to America to speak English you know?
Me: so what are you? Cuban
Grandfather: I’m what you call a mestizo, look it up in the dictionary if you don’t know son (laugh)
Me: what’s that?
Grandfather: it’s a mixture of Hispanic, Indian, and Black
My grandfather was born the seventh of twelve children in D.C.’s General Hospital, February 16th 1947. This conversation had more length to it than his family tree, so I took an excerpt of it that will serve my purpose nicely. My grandfather, being a black male experienced what a lot of black males experience; fatherhood at a young age. When faced with this newfound responsibility, the black male as a species is faced with two choices; he can either fight or flight. The fight or flight response is the body’s way of deciding if a situation is favorable for success, dangerous, or both. Based on this decision, the body and mind respond in bursts of passionate action within the moment. Ultimately, the choice lies on the individual, as social, political, and the person’s character come into play. He could have chosen flight, and escaped the situation, but instead he chose to fight the newfound challenges of raising two black males just like him. Fast-forwarding to the years after being a father, he was still a spouse, a job that proved far more difficult than being a dad as his marriage was failing. His wife, who is also the mother of his kids, chose to walk out on him. It is debatable whether or not my grandmother used my uncles as collateral, but this concept can cause nasty parental wars. Now at the brink of family division, again he was then faced with the choice to fight the situation or flee. Black men aren’t expected to put up a fight for their kids, and as men, even challenge a mother’s custody. The day when he came home to an empty house, he could have chosen to forget about his family, let them be the ones to run, making it that much easier for him to forfeit responsibility and live up to dead-beat assumptions. I am able to write this today because of his choice to pursue his wife and even give up his house so she would stay close to him! As a black man, he chose to sacrifice his pride and dignity by being the one to leave a home he paid bills for, in order to be closer to his children. As hard as that must have been for him, he stayed in raggedy apartment four blocks away in isolation from a woman who didn’t want him anywhere near, again, all in the name of fatherhood. Sadly, my own father couldn’t be the man that his dad was, as my mom has been abandoned, and took it upon herself to raise me and my two sisters on her own. My granddad has sent me money every birthday and not missed a single one to date. He has flown out to see me in California, and flew me out to Maryland to see him where he currently lives. Again he shows his will to be both a good father to his kids as well as a father figure his kid’s children. The same can be said for his treatment of a handful of my cousins and relatives. It is his actions that exemplify what it means to build a new progressive black masculinity in America. This progressive black man is one who does not conform to stereotypical molds of some sort of dysfunctional parental beast. One stereotype that has plagued the black community today is this notion that “he” does not take care of his kids. The black man is thought of to be in prison or in the streets, but anywhere except the household. In media, although you might not always find images of black males, you can always find images, stories, or references to black women raising children on their own. This leaves the impression that the good black fathers does not exist. Sadly, as in my case this idea can be true for some minorities, but not all. I am not arguing that these stereotypes are entirely false, but there are many exceptions where brotha’s are willing to go the extra mile for their kids. Black men have been limited to stereotypes like this which enforce his role as an irresponsible American, and dismiss his legitimacy as a responsible father. Many good brotha’s like my grandfather do not engage in actions out of spite toward their children’s mother, but endure hell because they know that their last name is more important than their first. Many good brotha’s understand that the mother’s involvement needs to be complimented by their own and not in competition with it. Whatever the beef between mom and dad, these men know it must remain separate from the love needed to nurture what mom and dad produced. My dad’s father had to reject the patriarchal attitude of dominating women and work to support her decision. Whether or not he liked how things had turned out, he made it his duty to accommodate her physically and financially. He knew the sanctity of the black male image depends on his involvement in his family tree, to prove that black men deserve more respect out life, than to be hung from them.